For Gipsofila, writer/director Margarida Leitão filmed her visits to her grandmother, Lourdes. The two women are 50 years apart, but, over the course of the documentary, we see them becoming closer. Suddenly the barriers between documentarian and subject become blurred – the story thus becomes not just about Lourdes but about the filmmaking process itself and Margarida.
Lourdes is in her 90s; she lives alone – her husband died almost 15 years ago. In her flat, Lourdes keeps a treasury of memories. When she was young she settled for a simple but happy life: got married, had kids, raised grandchildren – Lourdes says her life was always made of “small nothings”. Granddaughter Margarida is in her 30s; Lourdes worries for her as she would like to see Margarida happy before she dies. As we follow Lourdes’ daily routines captured through Margarida’s lens, the story progressively takes on a more personal turn – both Margarida and Lourdes open up to their fears and hopes.
Gipsofilia is a slow and gentle documentary which is as much about the subject matter – Lourdes – as it is about the filmmaking process. We often see Margarida setting up the camera with Lourdes advising on where the light would look best. For the entire film we dwell in the semi-darkness inside Lourdes’ flat, only rarely gazing on the outside (Lourdes is afraid of going out, having being robbed several times). Although the film starts in a traditional way – introduction to the main character, establishing shots, talking heads and so on – it soon turns its attention to the relationship between the filmmaker and Lourdes. It seems, the making of the documentary is taking its toll on Margarida’s nerves but we also sense that this frustration extends beyond the film itself. Grandma Lourdes is happy to share her wisdom and support. This happens in reverse when, towards the end of the film, it’s Lourdes who voices her fears about death and being all alone. It’s Margarida’s turn to support her grandmother.
Alas, the strength of this documentary is also its weakness. On one hand, the simple nature of Lourdes’ story does not offer the most obvious choice for a documentary subject: engaging in real life stories is always tricky as real life hardly ever unfolds following the rules of storytelling. On the other, this being such a personal and moving trajectory, it is entirely relatable for any viewer. As the film unfolds, we become absorbed not just into the making of a film, but by the fears and dissatisfaction of an entire generation. Gipsofilia then becomes a documentary where everyone can read their meaning and relate to their own experiences.
Gipsofilia screened at the Caminhos Film Festival, the only Portugal-based festival dedicated to celebrate Portuguese Cinema. For more information about the festival and contacts, please go to https://filmfreeway.com/festival/caminhos